A guide to school age vision
Good vision equals a head start on learning
Ask parents what their top priorities for their children are and one thing they will always say…a good education! That usually means a good school and a great teacher…but success in school also counts on good vision health!
Did you know?
Classroom learning is 80 per cent visual, which means that if your child isn’t seeing well, they’re not able to perform up to their potential. Right now almost 25 per cent of children have undetected vision problems that are holding them back. Don’t take the fact that your child can see as reassurance that their vision skills are adequately developed – it could be an assumption that affects how well they are able to learn. Maturing and changing eyes need to be monitored to ensure that they are developing properly.
The good news is it’s easy to make sure your child is seeing efficiently and clearly. The first step is to see an optometrist for a comprehensive eye examination before they start school. The optometrist will check that your child has the basic vision skills – these can include:
- Near vision: the ability to see clearly and comfortably at 25 – 30cm
- Distance vision: the ability to see well beyond arms reach
- Binocular coordination: the ability of the eyes to work together and perceive depth
- Eye movement skills: enable the eyes to aim accurately, move smoothly across a page and shift quickly from one object to another
- Focusing skills: enable both eyes to accurately focus at the proper distance, to see clearly and change focus quickly (example, from desk to chalkboard and back)
- Peripheral awareness: the ability to be aware of things located to the side while looking straight ahead
- Eye-hand coordination: the ability to use the eyes and hands together
If any of these skills are lacking, your child will try to compensate. This could result in frustration, headaches, fatigue and other eyestrain symptoms.
Be alert for symptoms
Children rarely complain of vision problems or are aware of them. They may also appear to see perfectly well, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is okay. Look for everyday signs that your child may need help with their vision and ensure that they have a regular eye health check-up.
Does your child…
- perform below his or her school potential,
- tend to avoid ‘close’ work or dislike reading,
- lose his or her place while reading,
- omit or confuse small words when reading,
- use a finger to keep track of where they are while reading,
- make frequent reversals when reading or writing,
- hold reading material closer than usual,
- turn or tilt his or her head to use only one eye,
- have red, itchy or watery eyes, or
- have frequent headaches.
Then it might be time to see an optometrist!
Sure, 20/20 is great, but it doesn’t mean perfect vision
Don’t assume your child has good vision because he or she passes a screening test with 20/20 vision. A 20/20 score means only that a child can see at 20 feet what they should be able to. It does not relate to any of the other vision skills needed for learning and is not a guarantee that your child’s eyes are healthy and disease free. Visual screenings, like those at a school clinic or a GP’s office, are not a substitute for a comprehensive eye examination by an optometrist.
What’s the difference between a sight test and a thorough eye exam?
A sight test simply determines what your child can see at a fixed distance. An optometrist examines all developing vision skills (the ones essential for optimum school success) and eye health. A thorough eye examination includes:
- a review of your child’s health and vision history,
- a comprehensive and non-invasive eye health examination to rule out any ocular disease,
- tests for visual acuity, refractive errors (nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism), lazy eye, crossed-eyes, eye coordination, focusing ability, eye movement control, depth perception, colour vision; and
- a suggested treatment plan where needed.
If your child’s eyes need help
After assessing your child’s visual system, your optometrist will recommend a treatment plan that may include glasses, contact lenses, vision therapy or medications. In some cases, preventative measures will be recommended to meet visual demands and prevent eyestrain (such as wearing mild prescription glasses for schoolwork, television viewing, or computer use).